Better than Nineveh

Most Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled and therefore were not written directly to us, or about us. Nevertheless, many of us like to cherry-pick and incorporate selected verses for ourselves. We love the assurance of verses like Jeremiah 29:11 originally addressed to Israel. We apply significance to ourselves with verses like Isaiah 61:1 even though it’s about Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 declaring his identity in the temple 700 years later. Granted these verses continue to edify us regarding God’s unchanging character, plan, and purpose. Even so, why do we only apply the warm fuzzy words instead of hard ones like Jeremiah 14 or Isaiah 5:20?

Why not Nahum?

Approximately one hundred fifty years after its collective repentance and subsequent reprieve as a result of Jonah’s obedience, Nineveh was back in the biblical judgment news.

While Nahum was clear that “The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.” Nah 1:7 like any true prophet he was also clear that God isn’t playing games and “reserves wrath for His enemies.” Nah 1:2

Still the question remains; who are His enemies?

He is clear in his rebuke and declaration of God’s judgment. Nineveh had become a nation of many races and was sustained by greed. Substance abuse was rampant. Nah 1:9-10 There was violence in the streets, leaders plotted against the Lord and looting abounded in all its forms. Nah 2:9

But looting was not limited to rioters in the streets. Nahum describes Nineveh’s leaders as “swarming locusts, and grasshoppers”. Nahum 3:17 Grasshoppers and locusts pillage and never produce. They disappear in the light of the sun.

As in the days of Jeremiah who rebuked the lying prophets for their ear-tickling positivity and their claims that God said things that He never did, Jerm 14:13-15 the people of Nineveh had become complacent and perhaps oppositional. Apparently, they thought they were immune to God’s judgments. To which Nahum replies,

“Are you better than populous (Thebes)?…” “…(who) “was carried away, into captivity”. Nah 3:8-10

While his meaning may not have been quite as literal as the interpretation might be today, Nahum declares,

“Your people (men) have become women” the gates of your land are open to your enemies.” Nah 3:13

And finally

“Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; Your nobles rest in the dust. Your people are scattered on the mountains, And no one gathers them.” Nah 3:18

There are a lot of ear-tickling, positivity prophets, and preachers these days. Almost all of them are declaring that “sword and famine shall not touch our land” and that peace and assurance shall abound. Jer 14:13 They minister to individual self-esteem at the expense of salvation and stoke the flames of personal significance instead of fear of our God who is a consuming fire. Heb 12:29

All declare an imminent revival.

Few call for repentance.

Everyone loves them. Everyone speaks well of them. Luke 6:26

The Bible is ultimately the most positive and hopeful message mankind has ever seen. Yet it is a conditional one. It’s time frame is eternal. It demands we abandon our ways and become set apart (Holy). This process begins with repentance from sin. Apart from this, no message, no word, no action on our part means a thing.

If you compare the state of the world today with the likeness of Israel back then; what do you see? Do you see a pleased God declaring Jeremiah 29:11 over society at large or do you see Isaiah 5:20 and Jeremiah Chapter fourteen?

Given that God’s character, plan, and purpose do not change and Ecc 1:9 explains that history repeats; why would anyone believe that it won’t repeat now?

What does true love look like in the context of today?

What kind of messages do people really need?

If one old testament prophecy can be appropriated today, then all can be be appropriated.

Nineveh was overrun and destroyed.

Are we better than Nineveh?

Character

We are locked down in Honduras as I write. COVID cases have begun to double on a daily basis. The borders and airports are closed. No one can come in or go out. There’s a 6 month to 2-year jail sentence awaiting anyone who violates a curfew.  Hondurans in our little community are obedient and calm. They are familiar with crises.  Two older American friends in another part of the country are locked down too.  He is a retired architect and has had a series of strokes. His wife is left to cope with his rapidly deteriorating condition by herself. They don’t have COVID but COVID is placing his life in jeopardy.

Meanwhile there are about two hundred North Americans, most of whom are short term missionaries stranded here.  Several of them are demanding their rights and that the US State Dept does something to evacuate them.  We strongly encouraged people to postpone their trips weeks before COVID first reared its head.  Unfortunately confirmation bias reigned supreme. I guess their plans, ministry and mission were too important.  I can empathize. I remember thinking and feeling the same way as a short-term missionary myself. 

As Seth Barnes founder of Adventures and Missions, (AIM) an organization with whom we serve as World Race GAP Year Coaches, said in his blog Courage and Prudence

“We are now in a wartime footing in most of the country. Most of us have no idea how to live life there. The things that worked before no longer work. COVID-19 is changing everything.”

Several months ago, I gave a teaching based on the book

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy-What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. By William Straus and Neil Howe. I had no idea at the time how prophetic it was.

Howe and Strauss are Historians and social scientists who observed an Ecclesiastes 3 cycle in American history that shows a new era, a season or “Turning” every 20 -25 years. Four turns or seasons amount to a Saeculum or the length of a long lifetime. In simplest terms, the most recent “First Turning” 1945 -65 was the “High” and could be likened to a honeymoon period.  It was marked by the end of WWII and the birth to the American dream. Families were strengthened as were social institutions like schools, local governments and church. Individual roles both inside and outside the family were clearly defined.

The “Second Turning”, 1965-85, the “Awakening”, was a period of questioning all those things. It was a time of spiritual upheaval, when the old order came under attack. It was marked by things like the birth of ERA, the Vietnam war and the subsequent student lead peace movements, the Water Gate Trial and Impeachment of Richard Nixon. Basically, every social institution was challenged. 

The “Third Turning”, 1985-2005, the “Unraveling” was a time when the individual reigned supreme. Punk rock and rap glorified criminality and anti-social behavior, swinging, divorce and open homosexuality became normalized. And culminated with the HIV AIDS epidemic and the destruction of the twin towers in New York.  Post Modernism grew to become the dominant world view and continued corruption and government scandals fueled an already growing distrust of nearly all established authority and institutions.  

The “Fourth Turning” 2005 -25 is the “Crisis”. We are in the thick of it now.

As Straus and Howe wrote in 1996.

“The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. . .The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.”

The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort — in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it.”

Howe and Strauss predicted we Americans will be forced to make decisions that mirror the hardest ones made by our predecessors as

“great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order”.  “And it will require us to admit that our faith in linear progress has often amounted to a Faustian bargain with our children. Faust always ups the ante, and every bet is double or nothing. Through much of the Third Turning, we have managed to postpone the reckoning. But history warns that we can’t defer it beyond the next bend in time.”

There is always talk of the end of days whenever a major crisis hit. I don’t claim to be a prophet and I certainly don’t know for sure.  My own bias is to doubt it.  Even so, my wife Cathy made a keen observation the other day. The beginning of sorrows that Jesus spoke about in Mat 24:8-13 translates to “Birth Pangs”.  Birth pangs progressively increase in frequency and intensity until the water breaks and the baby is born.  If this is the beginning of sorrows it will usher in the millennial reign of Christ. Fourth Turns gradually come to an end and are followed by another High.  

In either case if we are to survive in a war time footing, we need to accurately discern the time. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their lack of discernment in Mathew 16:1-4.

“Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Everything they needed to identify Jesus was already in the scriptures.  The problem was that Jesus did not match their interpretation and resulting expectations and Jesus remained hidden in plain view.

A lot of us have the same problem today.

Signs, wonders and spiritual gifts are all the rage these days.  Myriad charismatic leaders inspire people to follow in their footsteps.  Evangelists, prophets, those with gifts of healing and an angle on prosperity abound. Those with the most dramatic, feel good performances and the biggest followings on social media become heroes of the faith even if their teachings are scripturally unsound.  Jesus said,

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26 and “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Mat 24:37 Noah preached repentance and righteousness 2 Pet 2:5 then built an ark in the middle of the desert. He was mocked and rejected as a result.  How much more are those who preach the same message in 2 Timothy 3 world rejected?  

Cathy just read some headlines as I write. 

“Vegas strip club offers drive through peep shows” in response to COVID and “Man beaten to death by mob for having Corona Virus.” 

You might be on fire for Jesus.  But a quick skim of the daily headlines should be all one needs to discern the times and the message that the world needs.

Discernment drives action

I’ve heard people quote and seen people post Psalm 91 so many times in the past few weeks that everyone including unbelievers should have it memorized by now. Problem is – many receive it as a magic incantation that allows them to fearlessly continue with their lives as if nothing was happening.

A cursory word study quickly reveals that dwelling in secret place of Psalm 91:1 upon which one’s protection is contingent, refers to both the secret place Jesus talked about in Mat 6:6 . It also means a literal “shelter, a hiding place.” 

By the way, has anyone stopped to consider that COVID could peak during Passover?

I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

If nothing else this situation is facing us with a very real question.  God or mammon?  

Many young people are assuming, they are invincible and choosing to party rather than comply with recommendations, warnings and ordinances.  We have young friends and relatives who seem utterly oblivious to the crisis at hand.

Spring Break 2020

The keys to surviving a crisis and thriving in the subsequent high lay in how we respond. There were people who jumped to their deaths from high-rises when the market crashed in 1929.  Those more prudent made fortunes. The most grievous error we can make is to fail to discern the time. We may assume a Fourth Turn crisis is the end and enter what AIM calls the “Q” (quit) zone. Or we could mistake the crisis for a First Turn high as so many spring breakers are doing now.

Good things come out of crisis. Rom 8:28

“Great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order.”   That means a return to First Turn values. People have been praying for and prophesying revival for decades.  Yet how soon we forget that revivals begin with radical repentance.  More often than not this repentance is preceded by an event that causes people to recognize their spiritual bankruptcy. An event like like the great San Francisco earthquake that preceded the Azuza Street revival in 1915.   Yes, Jesus healed and does heal people but His primary reason for coming was to be a propitiation for our sin. He came to rescue us from hell.  Miracles and healing look more spectacular to our disbelieving and entertainment hungry eyes. But they are secondary to dealing with our sin. John 1:22   As Ray Comfort says, “God comes to us with a subpoena in one hand and a pardon in the other.”  We love to tell people about the loving pardon while avoiding the subpoena all together. 

As the current COVID crisis grows, I have yet to hear anyone under the age of 85 preach a message of repentance.  There seems to be a correlation between this and the fact that those 80 and older were alive during the previous Fourth Turn.  Hope for a nation that has murdered over 61,000,000 babies’ since Roe v Wade, maligned the name of Jesus as a matter of public policy and rejected His substitutionary work on the cross isn’t going to be found in Psalm 91 without embracing 2 Chron 7:14 first.

“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

My oldest surviving uncle Lester will be 90 in June.  He built his own sugar house and makes his own maple syrup in Ashfield Massachusetts because he needs something to do when it’s too cold to work. 

His wife Nancy is a retired biologist with a passion for conservation.

The last time I visited, Aunt Nancy had just chased a mother bear and her cubs away from her beehives on foot. At dinner Lester and I spoke about the last Fourth Turn. Uncle Lester is a retired Navy Vet. His brother fought at Normandy.  He doesn’t speak a lot but when he does it behooves people to find the parable. Uncle Lester grew up poor during the Great Depression but says he didn’t know it. He never complains and talked a lot about the value and power of gratitude and community during hard times.  Elders in places like Ashfield Mass still work hard and have a lot of character. They are our national treasures.

I recently saw a meme directed at chronic COVID complainers.

If our culture persists in a collective belief that our individual rights reign supreme, that we are somehow owed something and that it’s the government’s job to provide it for free at the expense of other people simply because they have more; then I can assure you that the authoritarian outcome or worse mentioned by Straus and Howe is almost certain.

Instead I found an example of the requisite attitude for success, especially for Christians during a Fourth Turn in Acts 14. During the Apostle Paul’s 1st missionary journey he and Baranabas were kicked out of Antioch. So they traveled 85 miles to preach the Gospel in Iconium. Unbelieving Jews stirred up dissension and tried to beat and stone him.  So, Paul and Barnabas moved on to Lystra and Derbe where taught and people were healed. Everyone thought they were Zeus and Hermes and started to worship them.  No sooner had they put an end to that craziness then the previous Jews who had followed them from Iconium showed up.  This time they were successful in stoning Paul.  They dragged what they thought was his dead body outside the city gate and left him there. The disciples gathered around him probably in mourning. But before they could do anything Paul jumped up brushed himself off and went back into the city where;  

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

This May we will have lived in Honduras for three years. We’ve been through our share of crises and we stocked up on beans and rice a few weeks ago in anticipation of what is happening now. The other day we gave some away to a neighbor in need. I’ve been racking my brain as to how we are going to feed people when the food runs out. What will we do if someone gets sick?  How will we care for people?  Last night some girls from the tiny Catholic church down the road delivered dinner to our door.  Being a full-time missionary is teaching me just how unimportant I am.  

I don’t know what is happening or is going to happen. If you read my previous blogs, my conclusions regarding COVID remain the same. 

Believe what we want “We still don’t know jack.”  

What I do know from both God’s Word and my own experience is that

Jesus did not come to give us our best life now. He came to redeem and transform us.

Everything will be shaken. Only what can’t be shaken will remain. Heb 12:26-28

Who we are and what we do “will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” Only that which is of God will survive. 1Cor 3:12-15

While our eternal hope is definitely in Jesus. Our ability to remain in that hope will be determined by our individual and collective character.  Character is produced by perseverance. Tribulation is its catalyst. Rom 5:3-7

Please keep us in prayer. Apart from divine intervention we are in big trouble if COVID gets a hold of us.

If you are receiving this it’s because we love you.

En El Nombre De Jesus!